Monday, March 21, 2011

Machiavelli, The Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Ed. & transl. Robert M. Adams, 2nd Edition, Norton Critical Edition, New York, 1992.

Readers of The Prince who study in Italian after first becoming acquainted with it in English translation are likely to be a little surprised at the complex and various quality of Machiavelli’s prose. It is not of a piece throughout, as translations make it seem. There are indeed epigrams and aphorisms with the brief, cruel point of a stiletto; there are also, and more characteristically, complex sentences overburdened by modifiers, laden with subordinate clauses, and serpentine in their length. Machiavelli likes to balance concepts and phrases, to build the structure of his thought out of elegantly juxtaposed contrasts, and to draw out the tenor of his thought through a long, linked, circumstantial sentence. By contrast with the Ciceronianisms of his humanist contemporaries, Machiavelli’s periods may have seemed brutally swift and abrupt; but standards have changed, and I have not thought it improper to render, on occasion, one of my author’s poised yet labyrinthine periods, by four or five sentences. … It is, after all, partly a matter of convention; in some ways, Machiavelli used the full stop as we use the paragraph (which was not at his disposal), (Translator’s Note, xvii)

Niccolo Maciavelli to the Magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici (3)

…you cannot stay friends with those who put you in power, because you can never satisfy them as they expected. (III, pg 5)

But when one acquires new possessions in a district that differs from one’s own in language, customs, and laws, that is where troubles arise, and where one needs good luck and plenty of resolution to hold onto them. One of the best and most effective policies would be for the new possessor of territories to go there and live. [6] … you can see troubles getting started, and take care of them right away; when you do not live there, you hear of them only when they have grown great and there is no longer a cure. Besides this, the new province will not be looted by your officials, and the citizens will be satisfied because they have easy access to the prince. If they want to be good citizens, they have more reason to love him, and if they do not, they have more reason to fear him. Any foreigner who thinks of attacking that state will think twice about it; (III, 6-7)

And in this connection it should be remarked that men ought either to be caressed or destroyed, since they will seek revenge for minor hurts but will not be able to revenge major ones. Any harm you do to a man should be done in such a way that you need not fear his revenge. (III, 7)

In addition, the man who comes into an alien province of this sort ought to set up at once as head and protector of his weak neighbors, should try to weaken his strong neighbors, and should make sure at all costs that no foreigner gets in who is as powerful as he is. You can always count on the foreigner’s being invited in by those who are discontented, through either excess ambition or fear, (III, 7)

Thus the Romans, who could see troubles at a distance, always found remedies for them. They never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply [8] to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage. Therefore they made war with Philip and Antiochus in Greece, in order not to have to fight them in Italy. At the time, they could have avoided both wars, but they chose not to. They never went by that saying which you hear constantly from the wiseacres of our day, that time heals all things. (III, 8-9)

And I talked over this whole subject at Nantes with the cardinal of Rouen when Valentino (as people generally called Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander) was occupying the Romagna. Actually, the cardinal told me that Italians knew nothing about war, and I told him that the French knew nothing about politics; since, if they knew the first thing about it, they would never allow the Church to grow so great. (III, 11)

The whole monarchy of Turkey is governed by a single master; everyone else is his servant; he divides his kingdom into districts, sending different administrators to each, and changing them around as he thinks best. But the king of France is placed in the midst of a great many noblemen of long standing, each recognized by his own subjects in his own districts, and held in esteem by them. They have their different privileges; the king himself cannot meddle with these, except at his peril. Comparing the two states, anyone can see that, though conquering the Turkish state might be hard, once conquered, it would be easy to hold. On the other hand, to take the state of France would be relatively easy in some ways, but to hold onto it would be very hard. (IV, 12)

Turkey… since they are all the slaves of their master and obliged to him, there is no easy way of corrupting them; and even if you succeeded, there is not much advantage to be hoped from it, because the man you corrupt cannot bring along many followers, at noted above. … But once they are thoroughly beaten and crushed so their army cannot reform, there is nothing more to fear except the family of the prince; (IV, 13)

And it is worth noting that nothing is harder to manage, more risky in the undertaking, or more doubtful of success than to set up as the introducer of a new order. Such an innovator has as enemies all the people who were doing well under the old order, and only halfhearted defenders in those who hope to profit from the new. This halfheartedness derives partly from fear of opponents who have the law on their side, and partly from human skepticism, … to persuade them of something is easy, but to make them stand fast in that conviction is hard. (VI, 17)

And he should never have allowed any of those cardinals to become pope whom he had injured, or who, on their election, might have had reason to fear him. For men injure others either through fear or hate. (VII, 23)

Somebody might wonder how it happened that Agathocles and others of his ilk, after they had committed so many acts of treachery and cruelty, [26] could live long, secure lives in their native cities, defend themselves from foreign enemies, and never be conspired against by their fellow citizens. And yet many other princes were unable, because of their cruelty, to maintain their power, even in time of peace, not to speak of the troubled times of war. I believe this depends on whether the cruelty is used well or badly. Cruelty can be described as well used (if it is permissible to say good words about something evil in itself) when it is performed all at once, for reasons of self-preservation; and when the acts are not repeated after that, but rather are turned as much as possible to the advantage of the subjects. Cruelty is badly used, when it is infrequent at first, but increases with time instead of diminishing. Those who use the first method may find some excuse before God and man for their state, as Agathocles did; the others cannot possibly stay in power.
We may add this note that when a prince takes a new state, he should calculate the sum of all the injuries he will have to do, and do them all at once, so as not to have to do new ones every day; … injuries should be committed all at once, because the less time there is to dwell on them, the less they offend; but benefits should be distributed very gradually, so the taste will last longer. (VIII, 27)

But even a man who becomes prince against the will of the people, with the aid of the nobles, should try above all things to win over the populace; he can do this quite easily by taking them under his protection. And because men, when they receive benefits form a prince whom they expected to harm them, are especially obliged to him, such a prince’s subjects may feel more warmly toward him than if he had risen to power with their help. (IX, 29)

And let nobody pretend to answer me with that trite proverb that “The man who builds on the people builds his house on mud.” That may be true when a private citizen plants his foundations amid the people and lets himself think that the people will come to his aid when he is in trouble with his enemies or the magistrates. In such a case one can easily find himself deluded, .. But if it is a prince who puts his trust in the people, one who knows how to command, he will never find himself betrayed. (IX, 29)

Mercenaries… The reason is that they have no other passions or incentives to hold to field, except their desire for a bit of money, and that is not enough to make them die for you. They are all eagerness to be your soldiers as long as you are not waging war; when war breaks out, they either turn tail or disappear. (XII, 34)

Experience teaches that independent princes, and well-armed republics accomplish great things, but mercenary armies do nothing but lose; (35)

Anyone who wants to make dead sure of not winning, then, had better make use of armies like these, since they are much more dangerous than mercenaries. In these you get your ruin ready-made; they come to you a compact body, all trained to obey somebody else. Mercenaries after a victory need a little time and a better occasion before they attack you, since they are not a unified body, but a group of individuals picked and paid by you. Hence a third party, even if you name him as head, cannot immediately gain enough authority to do you serious harm. In a word, when you have mercenaries, their cowardice is most dangerous to you; when you have auxiliaries, it is their courage you must fear. Hence a wise prince has always kept away form troops like these, and made use of his own, preferring to lose under his own power than to win with other people’s troops… (XIII, 38)

Between a man with arms and a man without them there is no proportion at all. It is not reasonable to expect an armed man to obey one who is unarmed, nor an unarmed man to be safe among armed servants; (XIV, 41)

…meanwhile learning to read terrain. He will see how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, and how the plains lie; he will know about rivers and swamps—and to this study he should devote the greatest attention. What he learns will be doubly useful; first, he will become acquainted with his own land, and understand better how to defend it; and then, because he knows his own country thoroughly, he can easily understand any other country that he is forced to look over for the first time. For example, in Tuscany the hills, valleys, plains, and swamps are pretty much like those in other provinces, (XIV, 41)

Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, (XV, 42)

For if you exercise your generosity in a really virtuous way as you should, nobody will know of it, … Hence if you wish to be widely known as a generous man, you must seize every opportunity to make a big display of your giving. … he will have to load his people with exorbitant taxes and squeeze money out of them in every way he can. This is the first step in making him odious to his subjects; for when he is poor, nobody will [43] respect him. … Since a prince cannot use this virtue of liberality in such a way as to become known for it unless he harms his own security, he will not mind, if he judges prudently of things, being known as a miser. In due course he will be thought the more liberal man, when people see that his parsimony enables him to live on his income, to defend himself against his enemies, and to undertake major projects without burdening his people with taxes. Thus he will be acting liberally towards all those people from whom he takes nothing (and there are an immense number of them), … (XVI, 43-4)

Someone may object that Caesar used a reputation for generosity to become emperor, … Caesar was one of those who wanted to become ruler in Rome; but after he had reached his goal, if he had lived, and had not cut down on his expenses, he would have ruined the empire itself. (XVI, 34)

Any prince at the heady of his army, which lives on loot, extortion, and plunder, disposes of other people’s property, and is bound to be very generous; otherwise, his soldiers would desert him. You can always be a more generous giver when what you give is not your or your subjects’; Cyrus, Caesar, and Alexander were generous in this way. … And there is nothing that wears out faster than generosity; even as you practice it, you lose the means of practicing it, and you become either poor and contemptible or (in the course of escaping poverty) rapacious and hateful. The thing above all against which a prince must protect himself is being contemptible and hateful; generosity leads to both. Thus, it is much wiser to put up with the reputation of being a miser, which you shame without hate, than to be forced—just because you want to appear generous—into a reputation for rapacity, which brings shame on you and hate along with it. (XVI, 45)

…no prince should mind being called cruel for what he does to keep his subjects united and loyal; he may make examples of a very few, but he will be more merciful in reality than those who, in their tenderheartedness, allow disorders to occur, with their attendant murders and lootings. Such turbulence brings harm to an entire community, while the executions ordered by a prince affect only one individual at a time. A new prince, above all others, cannot possibly avoid a name for cruelty, since new states are always in danger. (XVII, 45)

Here the question arises: is it better to be loved than feared, or vice versa? I don’t doubt that every prince would like to be both; but since it is hard to accommodate these qualities, if you have to make a choice, to be feared is much safer than to be loved. For it is a good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain. (XVII, 46)

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that, even if he gets no love, he gets no hate either; because it is perfectly possible to be feared and not hated, and this will be the result if only the prince will keep his hands off the property of his subjects or citizens, and off their women. When he does have to shed blood, he should be sure to have a strong justification and manifest cause; but above all, he should not confiscate people’s property, because men are quicker to forget the death of a father than the loss of a patrimony. (XVII, 46)

But a prince at the head of his armies and commanding a multitude of soldiers should not care a bit if he is considered cruel; without such a reputation, he could never hold his army together and ready for action. Among the marvelous deeds of Hannibal, this was prime; that, having an immense army, which included men of many different races and nations, and which he led to battle in distant countries, he never allowed them to fight among themselves or to rise against him, whether his fortune was good or bad. (XVII, 46)

How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and live with integrity rather than by craftiness, everyone understands; yet we see from recent experience that those princes have accomplished most who paid little heed to keeping their promises, (XVIII, 47)

Those who try to live by the lion alone are badly mistaken. Thus a prudent prince cannot and should not keep his word when to do so would go against his interest, or when the reasons that made him pledge it no longer apply. … Besides, a prince will never lack for legitimate excuses to explain away his breaches of faith. … But it is necessary in playing this part that you conceal it carefully; you must be a great liar and hypocrite. Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived. (XVIII, 48)

In actual fact, a prince may not have all the admirable qualities listed above, but it is very necessary that he should seem to have them. Indeed, I will venture to say that when you have them and exercise them all the time, they are harmful to you; when you just seem to have them, they are useful. It is good to appear merciful, truthful, humane, sincere, and religious; it is good to be so in reality. But you must keep your mind so disposed that, in case of need, you can turn to the exact contract. (XVIII, 48)

What makes him hated above all, as I have said, is his confiscating the property of his subjects or taking their women. (XIX, 49)

What makes the prince contemptible is being considered changeable, trifling, effeminate, cowardly, or indecisive; he should avoid this as a pilot does a reef, and make sure that his actions bespeak greatness, courage, seriousness of purpose, and strength. In the private controversies of his subjects, he should be sure that his judgment once passed is irrevocable; indeed, he should maintain such a reputation that nobody will even dream of trying to trick or manage him. (XIX, 50)

For a prince must be on his guard in two directions: domestically, against his own subjects; and abroad, against foreign powers. From the latter he can defend himself with good weapons and good friends; if he has good weapons, he will never lack for good friends. (XIX, 50)

One of the strongest counters that a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the mass of the people, because every man who conspires always thinks that by killing the prince he will be pleasing the people. But when he thinks his act will enrage them, he no longer has any stomach for the work, (XIX, 50)

Now the first thing to note is that, unlike other princes who had to contend only with the ambition of nobles and the insolence of the people, the Roman emperors had a third difficulty: they had to cope with a cruel and avaricious soldiery. Satisfying both the soldiers and the populace at the same time proved so difficult that it cost many of the emperors their thrones. For the people wanted quiet, and thus were pleased with unambitious princes, while the soldiers loved a prince of warlike spirit, who was domineering, greedy, and cruel; they wanted to see these qualities exercised on the people, because that meant double wages for them, and satisfied their cruelty as well as their greed. (XIX, 52)

The reason was that Severus was a man of such character that, by keeping the soldiers friendly to him, and oppressing the people, he was able to reign in prosperity all his life long; his talents made him so remarkable, in the eyes of the people as well as the soldiery, that the former remained awestruck and appeased, the latter astonished and abashed. [The virtues of Severus, which amounted to cold and ruthless decisiveness, are perceptibly different from the virtues of Marcus Aurelius; in this deliberately equating them, Machiavelli is in effect declaring that the moral qualities of a prince are virtues or vices only as they help or hinder his political functioning. (XIX, 54)

Now let us come to Commodus, who found the empire easy to acquire, since it descended to him by hereditary right, as son of Marcus Aurelius; and if he had simply been content to follow his father’s footsteps, he would have satisfied both the populace and the soldiers. But he was a cruel and beastly man, who, to exercise his rapacity on the people, indulged his armies to the limit, and encouraged their excesses. On the other hand, he took no care for his own dignity, descending many times into the theater to fight with gladiators, and doing other completely vulgar tings unworthy of imperial majesty, till at last he became contemptible to his own soldiers. Then, when he was hated by one faction and despised by the other, … he perished. (XIX, 55)

There never was a new prince who disarmed his subjects; on the contrary, when he found them without weapons, he always armed them. The reason is that when you arm them, their arms become yours; those who were suspect become your faithful supporters, and those who were faithful before continue so, and from merely being your subjects become your partisans. Naturally, you cannot arm all your subjects, but when those whom you have armed are well treated, you can consider yourself safer from the others. Those you select for special favor will think themselves obliged to you, and the others will forgive you, judging that men deserve special rewards when they assume special risks and obligations. But when you disarm them, you begin to alienate them; you advertise your mistrust of them, which may come from your suspecting them of cowardice or treachery; both these insinuations will raise hatred against you. (XX, 57)

But when a prince acquires a new state and attaches it, like a fresh graft, on his old state, then the new acquisition must be disarmed, except for those who actively helped you acquire it; even those people, as time and occasions allow, must be rendered soft and compliant. Things have to be arranged so that all the arms in your new state are in the hands of your own soldiers, who used to live in your own state, under your eye. (XX, 58)

A prince will also be well thought of when he is a true friend or an honest enemy, that is, when, without any hedging, he takes a stand for one side against another. It is always better to do this than to stand on one’s neutrality; because if two of your powerful neighbors come to blows, they are either such people that you have to fear the winner, or [61] they are not. In either case, it will be better for you to assert yourself and wage open war; because, in the final case, when you do not take sides, you are bound to be the prey of the winner, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the loser. Then you have no excuse, nothing to defend you, nobody to take you in; a winner has no use for doubtful friends, who would not support him in adversity, and a loser will not take you in because you were not willing to take your chances with him, sword in hand. … As for the second case, when neither of the two powers who are at odds is so strong that you have to be afraid of his winning, it is all the more sensible for you to take sides, since you are now able to ruin one with the aid of the other, who would have saved him if he had any sense. The winner, whoever he is, will be at your mercy, and the side to which you throw your weight is bound to win. And here let me say that a prince should never ally himself with someone more powerful than himself in order to attack a third party, except in cases of absolute necessity. (XXI, 62)

No leader should ever suppose he can invariably take the safe course, since all choices involve risks. In the nature of things, you can never try to escape one danger without encountering another; but prudence consists in knowing how to recognize the nature of the different dangers and in accepting the least bad as good. (XXI, 63)

For there is no way to protect yourself from flattery except by letting men know that you will not be offended at being told the truth. But when anyone can tell you the truth, you will not have much respect. Hence a prudent prince should adopt a third course, bringing wise men into his council and giving them alone free license to speak the truth—and only on those points where the prince asks for it, not on others, but he should ask them about everything, [64] … But apart form these counselors he should not listen to anyone; he should go straight to the matter under discussion and stand firmly by his decision. Any prince who behaves differently will either be subject to the imortunings of flatterers or will waver between different views of the subject, as a result of which he will be little respected. (XXII, 65)

A prince should always take counsel, the, but when he wants advice, not when other people want to give it. On the contrary, he should prevent anyone from offering him uncalled-for advice. But he should also be a liberal questioner, and afterwards a patient hearer of the truth regarding whatever he has asked about. Many people think that a prince who is considered prudent gets that reputation, not on his own merits, but because he has good counselors around him. That is completely wrong. For this is a general and unfailing rule: that a prince who is not shrewd himself cannot get good counseling, … (XXII, 65)

If he consults with several different advisers, a prince without wisdom will never get the different opinions coordinated, will never make a policy. Each of the ministers will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to recognize them for what they are, or how to make them pull together. Ministers are bound to act this way, because men will always turn out badly for you unless they are forced to be good. (XXII, 65)

[From Machiavelli’s Method and Style, Federico Chabod.] Far more important, the Machiavelli of this period affords us a glimpse of the real Machiavelli, with his characteristic way of looking at political problems, and in particular his dilemmatic technique of invariably putting forward the two extreme and antithetical solutions, disregarding half-measures and compromise solutions, and employing a disjunctive style: … This method constantly recurs in Machiavelli’s prose. He is so rigorous in his use of it that it seems at times too obvious—I would venture to say too ingenuous… It is, on the other hand, a perfect formal expression of a mode of thought which is always based upon the precept that ‘virtue’ in a politician consists entirely in making a prompt and firm decisions, and that in public life nothing is more pernicious than obscure or slow and tardy deliberation—a fault which results ‘either from weakness of mind and body or from the malevolence of those who have to deliberate’ (Discorsi II, xv). Machiavelli is always emphasizing that no State should delude itself that it can always adopt a ‘safe course of action; rather it should realize that its policy will always be attended by risk; … He is always resolute in regarding ‘half-measures’ as ruinous; indeed, they were always avoided by ‘his’ Romans, who invariably went to ‘extremes’ (Discorsi II, xxiii). Men adopt ruinous half-measures, says Machiavelli, because they are lazy or incompetent, because they do not know ‘either how to be wholly bad or to be wholly good’ (Discorsi I, xxvi). (179)

Most important of all, even at this early stage he is never satisfied with the mere analysis, however lucid, of a specific political situation. Instead, he is impelled—I would say by instinct—to proceed straight from the facts to considerations of a general nature and to regard the concrete episode as one of the innumerable changing manifestations of something which does not change, because it is perennial—the struggle for power, in other words, politics. (180)

And certain syntactical constructions, all subject and verb and therefore [181] concise and vigorous, adumbrate, albeit vaguely, images and syntactical constructions that occur in his most perfect prose, that of The Prince. (182)


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